Justin Huggler: Where are the protests to save this Briton?

Even one of the judges in his trial said he had been framed by the Pakistani police

As you read this, a British man is sitting terrified in a tiny cell in Pakistan, waiting to be hanged for a crime he almost certainly did not commit. In a matter of weeks they will come to take him to the gallows. Even one of the judges in his final trial said it was clear he had been framed by the Pakistani police. But so far there has been no outcry in Britain.

He was acquitted by the secular courts, only for the Islamic sharia courts suddenly to intervene and sentence him to death. Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, has refused to intervene, though it is within his power.

Where are the television cameras? Where the protesters? Where the impassioned appeal from Tony Blair? I cannot help feeling that if it were a white Briton sitting in that prison cell, about to be hanged under sharia, he would be on the front page of every newspaper.

But Mirza Tahir Hussain is a British Asian, a British Muslim. And I fear he is going to go to his death with barely a whisper of protest from Britain. We are told Mr Blair spoke to General Musharraf about Hussain behind closed doors last week, but he has said little publicly. When the last stay of execution order expired last week, only The Independent had the courage to put Hussain on its front page.

We heard a lot in the wake of the July 7 bombings and the Heathrow plot of the need for Britain to reach out to its Muslim citizens. Where are those who made these calls now, when a British Muslim who has never had anything to do with extremism needs them to plead for his life?

This is a man who is completely British: he came to the UK as a baby, he served in the Territorial Army and wanted to join the regulars. He was accused of murdering a Pakistani taxi driver in 1988 in order to steal his taxi. He was 18 years old, and he had been in Pakistan just three days. Imagine if it had been a white British 18-year-old on a gap-year visit, accused of somehow getting hold of a gun within three days of arriving and shooting a man dead for a tiny, battered taxi.

Hussain's version of what happened, which he has never wavered from, is that the taxi driver pulled a gun on him and tried to sexually assault him. Desperate, he tried to resist, and in the struggle the gun went off, killing the driver.

Hussain was tried and acquitted by the secular courts, based on the same legal system we use in Britain. And then he was suddenly and unexpectedly dragged before the sharia courts, the same legal system used by the Taliban. The sharia court found him guilty, even though one of the judges said there was no doubt he had been framed by the police. He has lost 18 years of his life in a Pakistani prison cell waiting to die. What if he were white? It is unimaginable: a white Briton would have been got out of there years ago.

The police "fabricated evidence in a shameless manner" against Hussain. That was the finding of Justice Abdul Wahid Siddiqui at the sharia court. His 59-page judgment makes shocking reading. The police planted a dagger on Hussain and doctored the official sketch of the crime scene. The prosecution "introduced false witnesses", including one who "told a blatant lie" on the stand.

The police tried to frame Hussain for a separate case of armed robbery by blatantly adding his name to the statement of a witness. They decided to frame Hussain "when all negotiations had failed" - a clear reference to an attempt to elicit a bribe. Hussain, the judge wrote, was "an innocent raw youth, not knowing the mischief and filth in which the police of this country is engrossed".

But President Musharraf's spin doctors have spun Hussain out of the news. When there was interest in his case during Gen Musharraf's visit to Brussels two weeks ago, the Pakistani President told MEPs he was going to save Hussain, and got several favourable headlines.

But on Sunday Gen Musharraf changed his mind, telling ITV he didn't have the power to save him, and it was barely reported. "I cannot violate a court judgment, whether you like the court or not," he said.

At best that makes him ignorant of his own country's constitution, article 45 of which states: "The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority."

Hussain's life is hanging by a thread. Apparently all that is keeping him from the hangman is a tradition of not carrying out executions during Ramadan - and that ends in three weeks.

If he had not been arrested, Hussain might be serving with British forces in Iraq or Afghanistan today. He was prepared to give all he had for his country. Unless it does more to save him, his country will have failed him.

Comments